Pig (2021, Michael Sarnoski)

Pig is an anti-noir. Writer and director Sarnoski sets it up as something of a neo-noir in the first act, with seemingly inscrutable modern-day hermit Nicolas Cage having to travel back to civilization and civilization being scared of him. And even though Cage’s adventure routes through shady settings, they’re just background to the actual journey and immaterial to the actual character. Pig is a character study—or a couple of them—in quirky (but not as quirky as it initially appears) wrapping. Sarnoski also delays the start of the character study to emphasize how unjustified expectation can affect a narrative; Pig does a great job of fulfilling promises to itself, not the audience.

Cage is a truffle farmer in rural Oregon. He lives within walking distance of a one-café town and driving distance of Portland, where rich foodies crave truffles. How else can they do artful, soulless winter menus; got to have truffles. His only contact with the outside world is his truffle dealer, overcompensating wiener Alex Wolff. Cage lives in a shack in the middle of the woods, Wolff brings him supplies in exchange for the truffles, which Cage finds with the help of his only friend, his truffle pig.

We get Cage’s name early, never get the pig’s, barely get Wolff’s. Names aren’t important for the protagonists specifically but also in general. Proper nouns are some of Pig’s noirish red herrings, seemingly significant but actually distractions from the main course.

After some adorable moments with the pig and Cage’s sorrowful solitary existence—Pig takes much of the first act to gradually establish; it certainly doesn’t appear they’re going to be able to go the character study route at the beginning. Cage and Sarnoski do a lot of work, the character development hurrying to make its appointment with the narrative when the action really gets going.

So soon after the pig’s established as cute and Cage’s existence (farming truffles for hipster foodies) is established as sad, bad guys kidnap the pig. Cage is going to need Wolff’s help getting her back because Wolff’s got a car.

Their rescue mission soon leads them to Portland, where Wolff is trying to establish himself as an elite restaurant ingredient supplier, and it turns out Cage has a unique history. Wolff’s very much under study, too, with Pig generally juxtaposing the two men, not specifically. There are faint echoes between the character development arcs, but universal ones, not ones precise to the characters. See, Cage has a very particular set of skills, skills he acquired over a very long career. And he’s going to have to use them, and it’s going to change everything for a very select group of people.

Now, Pig doesn’t spend much time with its supporting cast. One of Cage’s most crucial character revelation scenes is entirely in long shot, so the exposition has more significant effect than the actual acting. The delivery’s excellent and all, but it’s about the space he’s in and how he interacts with it. Sarnoski’s got good and better composition (there are occasional moments when it seems like cinematographer Patrick Scola trips and jiggles unintentionally—also ones where he’s intentionally jiggling), but Sarnoski always knows how to shoot the scene. The narrative distance is superb.

The primary supporting cast member is Adam Arkin. He’s great. He’s the Mr. Big in the anti-noir, and he’s got to do a significant shift real fast. Cage has to do a big shift gradually. Arkin gets a close-up to entirely change the course of the film.

David Knell and Darius Pierce are the other two principal supporting actors, both stops along Cage’s quest through his past. Knell’s outstanding in the first scene to really show off Cage’s skills, which is also where Pig’s very high aims start coming into view, and the film assuredly realizes them.

The whole show is not Cage. Wolff’s excellent too. Sarnoski’s direction is strong. The writing’s strong. But Cage could be the entire show. You’d need the script, but Cage could carry it without anyone else. The performance is mesmerizing start to finish. It gets richer as the film moves along and more details come out, but Cage is never changing, just revealing layer upon layer. He’s magnificent.

And Pig’s real good.

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